What happens in your brain when you see a dog, hear a voice, suddenly feel sad or have any other subjective experience?
A coalition of pyramidal neurons linking the back and front of the cortex fires in a unique way. Different coalitions activate to represent different stimuli from the senses (left). In a mouse cortex (right) these pyramidal cells (green) lie in brain layer 5, surrounded by nonneuronal cells (blue).
Neurons across the brain fire in synchrony (green) and prevail until a second stimulus prompts a different assembly to arise (orange). Various assemblies coalesce and disband moment to moment, while incorporating feedback from the body. In a rat brain (bottom), an assembly in the cortex forms (a, b), peaks (c), then decays (d) within 0.35 second after the thalamus is electrically stimulated.
Christof Koch is professor of cognitive and behavioral biology at the California Institute of Technology, where he teaches and has conducted research on the neuronal basis of visual attention and consciousness for more than two decades.
Susan Greenfield is professor of pharmacology at the University of Oxford, director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain and member of the British Parliament's House of Lords. Her research focuses on novel brain mechanisms, including those underlying neurodegenerative diseases.